Ms. Nash seems more modeled on her father. She and her best friend, as teenagers in West Hartford, Conn., were officers of their high school's student council, both marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, and both had great grades. That was enough to get her friend - a boy - into Yale. But back then, Yale did not accept girls, period. And because Ms. Nash wanted to stay close to home - her father had died when she was 16, and she wanted to stay near her mother - she went to what was then the Connecticut College for Women. She saw Yale as preferable, but Connecticut College was "just enough.'' She majored in Greek and Latin.
In the turbulent 60's, Ms. Nash found herself equally fascinated by mythology, ancient history and current events. She had hoped to become a classics professor. "The ancient Greek heroes had tragic flaws that brought them down, and so did Richard Nixon,'' Ms. Nash said - quickly adding that the comparison ended when it came to the Greeks' nobility and divinity. "I began to understand the fascination of power.''
MS. NASH went on to graduate work in classics at Harvard. In 1974, she married Thomas Beale, whom she had met in a Greek class. There were few jobs for classics professors when she got her doctorate in 1976. So she switched her specialty to government and business, which she called "the two areas where contemporary issues of power and morality played out.'' In 1980, she joined the Harvard Business School faculty, and became fascinated by exploring the values, behaviors and views of success that characterized high achievers.
"I had this growing sense," she said, "that the definition of success in business had grown too narrow, too based on money.'' In July 2001, she and Mr. Stevenson began the research that led to "Just Enough.'' Two months later came the Sept. 11 attacks, and the interviews became far more poignant. "People who had felt satisfied before suddenly were questioning why their work, their lives, didn't feel more meaningful,'' she recalled.
So is it possible to be content, even in a world where the bar for "best'' is raised daily? Ms. Nash says the answer is yes. Here are some of her recommendations for reaching that emotional nirvana:
Recognize that superstardom often carries the baggage of lapsed ethics, alienated spouses or children, substance abuse and a lack of plain ordinary fun. Many people envied the lavish life that L. Dennis Kozlowski had as chief executive of Tyco International, but few envy his arrest and trial on charges of securities fraud and theft. Many people crave the accolades that John F. Welch Jr. got as chairman of General Electric, but few would want the publicity that accompanied his messy divorce and the reports that the company footed many of his personal post-retirement bills. "Do you really want to be the total celebrity C.E.O., or just the parts about winning and wealth?" Ms. Nash asks, in classic rhetorical fashion.
If you cannot be a high achiever, switch to the "significance" sphere of life. You are passionate about ballet but have two left feet? Maybe contributing money or joining the board of a dance troupe will feel like "just enough.'' If not, decide if you can use your other talents - say, business acumen or an eye for design. "You can start a ballet company or design a new ballet shoe, or even supply shoes to the dancers,'' Ms. Nash said. "Look elsewhere for achievement; look to ballet for significance.'' [more]
... or start a blog.